He will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Both leaders are attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan.
Asia scholar Stein Tonson does not underestimate the importance of today’s summit.
– I would like to say that this meeting is of great importance. It is Xi Jinping’s first trip abroad since the pandemic and his first meeting with Putin since the invasion of Ukraine. The last time they met was during the Olympic Games in Beijing, he told Dagbladet.
– great importance
The agenda of the meeting includes, among other things, cooperation between the two countries.
– They are meeting now in the most important organization in which the West does not participate. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an organization that ensures security in Central Asia, which includes all the republics of Central Asia, as well as India, Pakistan and Iran. They are also in dialogue with Myanmar. Tonison says it is a forum of great importance to the Russia-China partnership.
The background is also important here, as Russia has since suffered major setbacks in the war, which Putin supposedly explained with Xi during the Olympics he is going to carry out. This is the first time they’ve met face to face so Shi can say what he’s thinking without anyone else listening, he says.
He wants weapons
Russia has not made the progress it wanted since entering Ukraine, and last week Ukrainian forces made significant advances in areas that had been under Russian control for months.
Several intelligence organizations indicated that the Russians did not have enough weapons and equipment to run the war in their favor again.
Putin will probably make his wishes to Xi, and one of his biggest wishes will be that China can sell arms to Russia, says Tonnison.
– Xi has a big dilemma here, because he has to support Russia to some extent. He needs a stable Russia, but if he starts selling weapons, he will have to rely on sanctions from the West. In a situation where the Chinese economy is in trouble with low growth, as it is now, the researcher says, there could be significant economic consequences.
The epidemic and China’s approach to not spreading infections have severely affected the country’s economy. Any sanctions will hurt the economy even more.
They may have been trying to keep arms sales under the radar, but they are unlikely to succeed, says Tonnison.
Western sanctions and Russia’s response to them have led to the closure of gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.
Thus, Russia should try to find another place to sell the gas it produces. One obvious alternative is the neighboring country to the east, but this is a project that won’t be able to generate returns for years.
Another of Putin’s wishes is to build a new gas pipeline between Russia and China. Existing pipelines make it difficult for Russia to make up for lost exports to Europe. It will be necessary for Russia to be able to export to China in the future, but the construction of such pipes takes a long time. There’s been talk of ten years about a potential new pipeline, Tonison says.
It would still be a prestigious victory for Putin if Xi agreed to start such a project now, but it would have no major practical consequences in the short term. Since it takes so long, it is still unlikely to lead to sanctions from the West, he says.
– Maybe not very popular
There is less than a month left until the Party Congress of the Communist Party of China. This means that Xi may also be a little careful with what he does and says, since he will likely be re-elected at that time.
– Now is also a sensitive time for Xi, with only one month left until the party congress where he is due to take a third term as party leader and thus president. And so it skips the previous rule that you only sit for two, Tonison says and continues:
Perhaps it is so unpopular in the Chinese Communist Party that it is concentrating so much power in its hands, and there is a certain tension associated with whether there will be any form of open criticism at the congress.
– Don’t want more distance
This dilemma is difficult for the Chinese leader to deal with.
Xi may not want to be beaten to death with a Russia that might lose a war, but he also doesn’t want to be further away from Russia, says the researcher.
– He should do something that does not disappoint, but not so much that it creates problems for China’s relations with other countries. I suppose there won’t be a new gas pipeline deal nor any weapons deliveries, says Tonnison.
He believes it is likely that Xi is encouraging Putin to try to find a solution in Ukraine.
– Perhaps Xi will instead try to talk to Putin about how to get out of this war. He might suggest, for example, that Putin offer a truce. When things go as well as they do now for the Russian military, it will probably be in Russia’s interest to take a breather. He adds that the downside from Putin’s view is that if one side gets a break, the other side gets it too.
It may be that Xi is whispering some harsh words in Putin’s ear and, for example, outlines a proposal for a cease-fire agreement whereby Putin’s forces withdraw from eastern Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine’s pledge not to join NATO and give up Crimea, Tonnison concludes.
– It’s just so important
Tonnison receives support from Professor Joe Jacobsen at NTNU. Researches international politics.
Officially, this is a multilateral meeting in the Shanghai Group, not a bilateral meeting between Xi and Putin. This is a very important forum for Putin as Moscow said thank you and goodbye to the West. This means that Russia should have alternative cooperation partners, including when it comes to economic cooperation and security and defense cooperation, Jacobsen says.
– This is also an important forum for China, but one cannot expect that Xi will stray from the hinges and give his support unreservedly to Russia, he says.
It is clearly important for China not to jeopardize its economic relationship with the West.
– For Russia, cooperation with China is very important, but for China, cooperation with Russia is rather important. You will also notice this difference in the coming months and years. Putin has staked everything on one card, that is, important countries outside the West. While China wants to maintain normal diplomatic and economic relations with the West.
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